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Leaning In When You Feel Misunderstood

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Growing up, I was always the clumsy one in the group. For a while, I think my feet were just growing faster than my body, but then my height caught up, and I still found myself stumbling over sidewalks and tripping through the bleachers (in front of the whole junior high at an outdoor pep rally, of course). When I got to college, the clumsiness didn’t go away, but by then I had learned to laugh at it, and my major spills were pretty much non-existent. The worst part, though, was that with clumsiness also came jokes about being ditzy too. And as someone who was a little too proud of my 4.0 GPA, I took the jokes about my intelligence personally.

When I went to Washington, DC for a semester my senior year, I was so excited for a chance to find my new role in the friend group. I was in a new place with new people, a great internship, and a chance for adventures. So imagine how my heart sank when during a walk to Barracks Row during my first week, I tripped—very obviously—over a broken brick sidewalk and almost went face down in front of all of my new roommates. Only a week or two later, I knocked down half of the items on my desk, only to walk out of the room and slip down the entire flight of stairs. My new identity in the friend group wasn’t going so well, and the clumsy and ditzy jokes came quickly and frequently. How would I ever reinvent myself as the smart, cool girl when my first few weeks were marred with trips and falls in front of half of my classmates? I felt out of place and very misunderstood. 

As seemingly trivial as this situation is, it can be really hard to feel like the people you’re in close relationships with don’t understand you—whether it’s because they don’t fully know you or they don’t agree with you or they just think you’re weird. It can be easy to pull away, but that only leaves broken relationships and it doesn’t prevent it from happening again (see above).  So how do we lean into relationships when we feel like we’re misunderstood?

Jesus was misunderstood by his community, his friends, and even his family. Throughout the stories of His life, we see him hassled by the religious leaders about His teachings and way of living. His friends, the disciples, struggle to understand His parables and the gospel He preached. And even His family said He was “out of his mind” when He started His ministry. While Jesus had a much deeper understanding of the people around Him than we ever will, we can learn from the ways that He responded to know how to lean in when the people around us misunderstand who we are.

Have honest conversations.

Jesus didn’t explain His actions or Himself, but He did have open and honest conversations with the people around Him. These conversations helped His friends begin to understand Him and gave them deeper insights into who He was. When we feel like someone misunderstands us, the best thing we can do is be honest with them about how we feel. You don’t need to explain yourself, but you can help them see things from your point of view, resolve any conflicts that arise, and maybe even get them out of their own comfort zone to have a new experience. Being honest with people also lets them into our lives and creates a space where there can be mutual understanding of one another, as long as both people are willing to listen and share.

Love them anyways.

No matter how many times Jesus’ friends and family questioned His actions, He continued to love them and push them towards grasping the gospel and His new way of living. Jesus’ story obviously has a lot more to it than that, but we can learn from His continuous love of others, even when they didn’t understand Him. Loving others when they misunderstand us will not only help them see who we are, but it will also help us understand more about who they are. Even when the relationship turns out to be an unhealthy one, love is the difference between a dramatic cutting off and a respectful letting go. Don’t let your feelings of being misunderstood lead you to push others away—continue to love.

Don’t stop being yourself.

Jesus kept doing what He knew was right and true to the gospel, even when it didn’t make sense to anyone else. Whether we’re misunderstood for our faith, or taste in music and fashion, our passions, our careers, or anything else, don’t let others’ misunderstanding of you change who you are and what you do. Continue to do what is right. Continue to do what you love. Continue to become who God created you to be. Lean into those relationships with your full self, bringing others into your becoming story and helping them become who they were called to be, too.

Being misunderstood is frustrating and often disheartening. It’s easy to push people away or to try to change our ways or personality. But by leaning into those relationships, even when the other person doesn’t see us for who we truly are, we stay true to who we are becoming. We create an example for how to love others. And we create a space for others to be who they are and learn who they are becoming. 

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